National Capital Chapter

Make Your Next Website Redesign Your Last

By Carrie Hane, Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen

Is it that time again? Time to redesign your organization’s website. It’s been about three years since the last time, and it is showing its age. People are having a hard time finding things. The design is so four years ago. Content creators are complaining about how much time it takes to get content published.

You’re about to embark on a journey that will be expensive and disruptive. Everyone is dreading it because they’ve all been through it before.

What if I told you this could be the last time you had to do this? That you could make this your last website overhaul.

It can be if you start by thinking about content in a broader context, outside of a website—or any interface. It can happen if you have a deliberate, forward-looking way of planning and creating content.

When you start with strategy, audience needs, and content instead of website design, content management systems (CMS), and vendors, you can get a website that will still have the same underlying structure and content in seven years as it does today. Ask the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is still working for them and looking good through a series of small improvements instead of massive changes.

How to make a future-friendly website

A web design process that starts with discovery and alignment, then planning, and finally creation.

To make your website future-friendly, you have to start with acknowledging that the site is for your audience. It is for them to get the information or complete a task. Therefore, you need to ruthlessly prioritize who is really using the site. Then map what you offer to what they want. A bit of user research and internal stakeholder alignment goes a long way toward an effective website. And you can even use the information collected and consensus built for other work within the organization.

Now that everyone’s on the same page and you’re focused on how to serve your audience, it’s time to plan your content. The best way to do this is to create a content model. A content model is a representation of the types of content, their relationships, and their attributes. Not just for the website, but for the organization. After all, any piece of content rarely has one specific purpose these days. Get it all in there. This will guide your content creation, information architecture, CMS development, and interface design.

Now the real fun begins. You get to figure out what it will look like! It is so much easier now that you have made decisions about what is needed. Designers have material to work with so that they can support the content and strategy. Developers can build a system that support the content delivery and management (a true content management system). Authors can develop the content at the same time. Everyone is working from the same set of specifications and a shared understanding of what things are and what their purpose is.

When this all comes together, you can confidently launch the new website knowing it is useful, usable, flexible, and findable. All along the way you’ve made decisions that can now come together in a governance plan that allows you to govern the content and website efficiently.

Launching a website is only the beginning. Kind of like a garden: with regular care and feeding, it will continue to serve you and bring delight to others.

Simple but not easy

This explanation is simplified, of course. The biggest challenge in creating websites with this process is the mindset shift. Not only does the team managing the website have to buy-in to this approach, so does everyone else. And that’s no easy task.

It is possible. I’ve done it and so have others. In the 10 years I have been using some version of this process, I’ve seen two things happen:

  1. None of my projects have been late because we were waiting for content.
  2. The underlying structure of the websites I created are still holding up.

This framework is tried and true and builds on my own lessons as well as those of many others. It is detailed in the book Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow. And I offer training so that others may learn to adopt it for themselves.